The challenging future legal and business environment which is widely anticipated will demand a lot more from law firms than providing quality legal advice. This is the view of Ian Robertson, long-standing managing partner of Holding Redlich’s Sydney office, writing in The Australian (apologies; link requires subscription or log-in) recently.

Whether it be around service offerings, fee levels, management of fee-related activities or developing individual brands and thought leadership around industry sector knowledge, law firms will want to work out what they will bring to the client table in future. Simply basing decisions on past experiences is not likely to be enough.

This advice backs up on the findings of a recent survey of Australian managing partners and chief executive officers indicating tighter times ahead – with recruitment levels and profit margins expected to be down over the next five years based on deteriorating business confidence.

For Australasian law firms the writing is on the wall for some or more of the following:

  1. Better service at lower fees: this is simply because clients have more choices, are more canny and have realised it is increasingly a buyer’s market. Even more challenging is that given market conditions this will be coupled with fewer and smaller transactions and disputes. The only possible exceptions will be in resource–rich states such as Western Australia.
  2. Fee estimates, fee capping and fixed fees will be the order of the day: on top of this clients will look for real value and will carefully analyse all charges to ensure they are justified.
  3. Quantitative leverage will be rejected: clients will accept leverage, but only qualitative leverage, in the sense of high calibre, suitable staffing on a team where work is pushed down to the lowest (highly)competent level and charge-out rate.
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I had always assumed a practice area like family law, by its nature, required direct partner intervention at every level – particularly ‘face-time’. It was also a practice that could not be commoditised. Nor could it be spread geographically. Also, unlike some other practice areas, there didn’t seem to be scope for a para-legal to play as significant a role.

Scott McSwan, innovative Managing Partner of McKAYS Lawyers in Queensland, Australia, had other ideas and debunks these reservations – his ‘think different’ approach has led to the establishment of a successful, geographically distributed and highly leveraged Family Law practice and business model. He agreed to share some of his experiences. I believe there are lessons in this for law firm leaders, and not just in relation to Family Law

A Family Law practice, traditionally regarded as requiring face-time from partners, can be leveraged – if you have the right calibre people and excellent support systems

Sean: where did this all start – what was the spark?
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